On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
I confess. I have never read a Stephen King novel. His themes don’t really appeal me, and I am a self-confessed snob when it comes to reading books that are mass produced and churned out like a conveyor belt. Saying that I may have had The Body read to me in class by Mr. Fenwick (I seem to remember watching the movie Stand by Me, which is based on the aforementioned book, as I know the teacher would not have just let us watch the film without reading it). I have seen various other movies based on King’s work, too, such as IT, Carrie and Misery (the latter I thought was great, and Kathy Bates’s “knobbling ankles” scene still makes me wince and feel my own ankles to make ensure they’re still there). Furthermore, while being a librarian at Dowal School, I would listen to the audiobook of Joyland to keep me awake when doing those f–king bulletin boards, cutting out letters and drawing whatever desperate things to attract children to the library (not a perk of the job). Yet, the book still didn’t grab me, despite saving me from committing suicide from suffocating boredom. Despite my snobbery though, I have always had a respect for the man, especially his twisted imagination, which grabs the attention of his fans as they all seem very loyal.
I then came across this.
I can’t remember where I saw it first; on Amazon or in Metromedia in Mall Multiplaza, Tegucigalpa, but I bought it twice (and a good job too, because I leant my hard copy to a young, dedicated writer named Javier Santos, who I’ve not seen since I left Dowal School. I don’t mind though; he’s a good lad). I do remember commenting on it on here around March/April 2014 when I was in Minas de Oro for Semana Santa (Holy Week, Easter, or better known as Cadbury’s Creme Egg season). As beautiful as it is, Minas de Oro hasn’t got masses to do apart from walk around, and walk around a little more, and chat with campesinos, and chat with campesinos a little more, which is nothing to moan about as both views of the surrounding rolling hills of Comayagua and relaxed tongues rolling out waves of caliche and regional gossip and ghost stories are beautiful, charming and interesting. However, once you’ve had your fill of guaro (spirits) and beer and open your eyes to the bleak work opportunities for locals, you can see why so many young people up and leave for the cities, leaving the town the town a little bare. Therefore, while the family regain energies by lazing away by watching countless movies, playing card games and, a Latino’s favourite past-time, spreading gossip, I hide away with my head stuck in a book. And this is a great book to have your head stuck into, especially for a writer, as this has some of the best writing advice I have ever read, and I have read and heard a lot, but nothing has been as motivating as the advice from, probably, the world’s most famous author.
First off, it is a memoir about how he got into writing, how he crafted his first book, how he has done it ever since, what inspires him, and realistic advice that all writers need but don’t always want to hear, about practice and making big money; it’s unlikely to happen. He talks about the hard times of being on drugs and having no money, in a directionless career in teaching, then working for newspapers, meeting his wife, and balancing a writing career and family. He talks of getting cheques for selling the rights of his book and how he’s had to manage criticism and self-doubt, especially after he was nearly paralyzed when a van hit him. Best career advice ever, but not to despair and give up. There is also advice on writing itself, such as grammar, word redundancy, and saying things simply, otherwise you run the risk of patronising your reader. Say, ‘”what is your name?” Pamela said’ instead of ‘asked’ – it’s obvious it’s a question. My favourite was his thoughts on adverbs, being “the road to writing hell”, or something like it. It is such valuable advice.
Apart from the “90 Day Book”, this is the best I’ve read on writing itself and it should be on every writer’s bookself, or better yet, at arm’s reach, and that is why I make it one of my favourites. Apart from Borstal Boy, this is my only non-fiction book in my top ten favourites, although I have read many great non-fiction books in my time. But let me underline this, it is important that all writers have this, made writers or those struggling to make it. And it’s a masterpiece; my favourite Stephen King book.